How to Change the Needle on a Vinyl Player

Three Parts:Replacing the StylusReplacing the CartridgeCleaning the Belt

Gramophones, phonographs, record players, turntables - whatever you want to call them - have parts that need to be changed as they wear. Generally, there are only 2 or 3 parts to turntables that need attention, depending on the type. These parts are

  • the stylus is usually an industrial sapphire (sometimes a diamond) or in ancient mechanical machines, a steel or bamboo needle that runs in the grove of the record.
  • the cartridge, that changes the mechanical vibrations into an electrical signal
  • the turntable drive, which is usually a rubber idler wheel or a drive belt.

The stylus is the part that is changed most often - as the friction created will cause wear as it tracks in the groove on the record. A worn or chipped stylus sounds bad, because it will not sit in the grove properly and can eventually damage your records.

Older 78rpm records use a larger diameter stylus than the vinyl 45 singles or 33 long play. Some cartridges have two styluses, either one either side so the whole cartridge is turned over, others have two styluses on a detachable holder - these are relatively rare but usually easier to change, as they just pull out.


Always keep the stylus clean by gently brushing away any fluff using something like the soft tip of a small hogs-hair paintbrush as used by artists. Do not use either force or solvent, as the stylus gemstone cement may become weakened over time and the stylus can then become detached from its mounting.

Occasionally use a strong magnifying class or simple microscope to take a look at your stylus. Sometimes the tone-arm can be simply lifted enough to do this, but some machines there is a catch somewhere near the hinge - don't force it!

The stylus should be shaped like a cone, but smooth with a perfectly round end, and no flattened or chipped surfaces.

Part 1
Replacing the Stylus

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    Remove the stylus by pulling straight out, in the opposite direction of the tonearm.
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    Take note of the cartridge manufacturer's name and model and find a compatible replacement stylus. If purchasing in a store, it will be helpful to bring the old stylus. If a compatible stylus is no longer available for your cartridge, both the cartridge and stylus will need to be replaced. Replace the cartridge as instructed in the next section before inserting the new stylus.
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    Slip the new stylus back into the opening in the cartridge. The point should be facing downwards.

Part 2
Replacing the Cartridge

The cartridge is another component that can be changed. Usually the cartridge will last a lifetime, unless it is physically damaged or a replacement stylus is no longer available.

  1. 1
    Choose a replacement cartridge based on which types are compatible with your turntable manufacturer and model. The cartridge usually plugs into a jack secured in the head shell or tonearm. The cartridge is either a "pull out" and "slip in" arrangement, similar to the stylus, or held in place with small hex nuts and screws to a removable headshell. The latter is less obvious and is the one described in this article.
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    Remove the headshell from the tonearm. Most head shells are secured by a compression ring or nut, which, when loosened, will allow the headshell to be separated from the tonearm. If not fitted into a socket mounted in the headshell, several individual color-coded wires with connectors crimped on the ends will need to be carefully slipped off the cartridge pins. The new cartridge will include a wiring diagram to make reconnects worry-free. Like many small electronic devices, it should be handled with care and aligned with the sockets to be eased into final position. Once the headshell is removed, use jeweler's screwdrivers to unscrew the screws.
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    Adjust tracking pressure when changing the cartridge. Cartridges have different weights, so the counterbalance (on the opposite end of tonearm) and skew adjustments (usually an adjustment at the rear and near - but not on the tonearm itself) will need to be set. When tracking pressure is properly set, the stylus will "sit" fully in the record's groove. The new cartridge will include a recommended counterbalance weight - often in expressed in grams. It can be accurately set by weighing the downward pressure at the stylus. The anti-skew setting helps keep the stylus pressure equal in horizontal directions - this helps prevent the tonearm from skidding across the record if bumped.

Part 3
Cleaning the Belt

One of the most overlooked parts of a player is the belt. (Do note that direct-drive units do not use belts.) Indications for belt cleaning include the inability to adjust the turntable speed to attain the correct pitch of the recording (or to sync the speed to an indicator located on the platter to the strobe), uneven speed or pitch, or complete failure of the platter to spin at all.

Image titled Change the Needle on a Vinyl Player Step 9
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    Get into the underside of the turntable. Depending on model, it may be accessible by removing a cover on the underside, removing the platter, or removing screws that allow lifting the entire mechanism up and out from the cabinet. From here you will be able to access the belt.
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    Remove the old belt once visible, and clean it. Using alcohol and a clean rag, gently clean all the surfaces that the belt contacts. Wipe the inner surface of the belt with a clean, dry cloth to remove any contaminants (do not use cleaners or alcohol on this part as these can cause the belt to dry out prematurely). When all components are dry, slip the new, compatible belt on. Never apply lubricants to these surfaces.
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    Reassemble and enjoy!


  • Protecting the stylus from damage will help keep your records sounding great. Never drop the arm - place it gently on the record. Never let it contact anything other than a record.
  • Proper anti-skew and tracking pressure adjustments are paramount to the quality of sound reproduction.
  • Clean records with devices and cleaners designed specifically for the task before playing.
  • If your turntable has a terminal screw near the power cord and signal jacks or cables marked "GND", "ground" or has a symbol that looks like an arrow pointing downward next to it, it should be connected to an earth ground to minimize or eliminate any objectionable 50 - 60 Hz AC hum and stray signals.
  • The turntable should be placed on a surface that is isolated as much as possible from vibration sources. Vibrations felt by the turntable from sources such as speakers, bumping furniture, and severe conditions like heavy truck traffic outside, will be detected and converted to sound in speakers. If the vibration is strong enough, it may even result in a "skip" during record play. Reduce or eliminate vibration by placing the turntable on a solid surface - or by providing a vibration absorbing buffer between the surface and turntable. Something as simple as a folded towel can dampen or reduce vibration significantly.


  • Unplug the turntable from AC power source before changing the belt or accessing the mechanism on the underside of the turntable.

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